A simple guide to choosing heaters for your office
It is common knowledge that the more comfortable employees are, the more motivated they are to do a good job. If your office is too cold employees are more likely to get sick – and therefore take sick leave or be unable to adequately focus on their jobs. They are also more likely to be unproductive, making mistakes such as typing errors and taking more coffee breaks than usual in an effort to keep warm.
Bar heaters are the cheapest to purchase. They come in one-, two- or three-bar varieties, and consist of elements placed in a reflective box which radiates heat from behind a safety grille. They do not have any safety features apart from an on/off switch. They are also dangerous to touch, as one is always in close direct contact with the heat source. Because they are cheap and small, they are often used in overcrowded, unsafe environments. As such, they are the most dangerous type of heater and the cause many house fires. These heaters are not recommended for office use.
Portable panel heaters (or space heaters) have castors, while panel heaters are mounted on the wall. They are the best way to heat a space, slowly and consistently. Each panel consists of an insulated electric element sandwiched between two layers of heat resistant, non-hygroscopic, cellulose fibre sheet. The size of the room they can heat depends on a number of factors, such as ceiling height, window size, curtaining, insulation and the opening and closing of doors. One 400-watt panel will generally heat a 12 square metre area. They are safer and more energy-efficient than fan heaters. A disadvantage is that portable panel heaters are a greater fire hazard – because they are portable, they can come into contact with flammable materials and careless people.
Keeping an office warm need only rely on a few well-placed panel heaters. Seal up any drafts that come from windows and doors, and insure that the ceiling is properly insulated.
A good quality fan heater can be energy efficient and heat a room well. Ideal for immediate heat, they are best used in a room sealed of all potential drafts. A fan heater works by using a fan to pass air over a heat source, such as an element. The air is warmed up, leaves the heater and moves into the surrounding room. Fan heaters can heat an enclosed space quickly. The down side is that because the heater contains a fan, it creates a noise.
In general, fan heaters consume more electricity than other types of heaters, so it is a good idea to switch them off once the room is warm. Leave the heater on in a safe place, such as the centre of the room.
Oil heaters consist of a series of joined columns, sometimes with spaces between them. Inside the body of the heater is diathermic oil. The oil is not a fuel, but serves as a heat reservoir.
Oil heaters are costly to purchase but are worth the investment in the long run. They are self-regulating and switch off when they reach the chosen temperature setting. The oil in the heater remains warm for a long time, ensuring that not too much electricity is used. They spread heat more evenly (albeit more slowly) than fan heaters.
Gas heaters are usually panel heaters that burn natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, propane or butane. They pose many of the same risks as other heaters, including burning and tipping. Permanently-installed gas heaters are usually vented. Portable gas heaters are non-flued (not vented), and can emit carbon monoxide.
Using your heater safely
- Ensure your heater has a kick-over (or tip-over) automatic shut-off. If the heater is tipped it will turn off, which prevents it setting things alight if it falls over.
- Automatic overheat shut-off is a must for preventing shorts and fires.
- Don’t expect any safety feature on your heater to be foolproof. A heater by nature is hot and could burn something even after it has been switched off.
- Plug your heater in safely. Plug it directly into the wall socket using a short, heavy-duty extension cord. Heaters tend to draw a lot of current, and a lightweight power cable could melt or start fires.
- If your electricity trips while you’re using your heater, stop using it as it is overloading the circuit.
- If for any reason there are animals or small children in the area, ensure that they stay away from the heater.
- Don’t leave heaters on overnight.
- Don’t leave your heater on when you are not in the office.
- Only put your heater on the floor. This is the most efficient, least wasteful and safest place for it.
- Concrete, tile, hardwood or extremely short-pile carpets are the only surfaces to place heaters on, to promote safety and avoid fires.
- Allow approximately 1m of space all around the heater.